The party that’s planned for Saturday evening, Nov. 23, at the Strawberry Lodge is not just a farewell gathering for Jean Turner.
It will also provide an opportunity to bid adieu to the end of a Rim country era.
After 35 years of owning and operating Strawberry’s landmark hotel and restaurant, Turner, 84, will hand the keys over to its new owners Dec. 2 and begin her hard-earned retirement.
“We’ve tried to get her out of there for eight or 10 years, but she wasn’t ready,” said Cindy Armstrong, Turner’s daughter, who spent her formative years living and working in the building. “My mother is a little teeny thing, but boy, is she stubborn. This past year, though, got to be way too much for her, and she finally said, ‘That’s it. I want out.’”
A party, open to anyone who wants to attend, seemed a fitting end, Armstrong said.
“The Strawberry Lodge is quite an institution in the state,” she said. “A lot of people know about it, and all of them know Mom. I expect it’s going to be a pretty emotional event.”
Although Armstrong declined to identify the new owners, she did say that they are from Phoenix, have restaurant experience, and “love the place exactly as it is. They told us that they don’t want to make any changes, at least right away. The place has such a reputation as it is for hospitality and home-cooked food, and they just don’t want to mess with it.”
Armstrong was 15 years old and the Strawberry Lodge was just a tiny cafe with four tiny motel-style rooms when her mother and father, Dick Turner, bought the place in 1967.
“I went from high school outside of Chicago, a school of 3,500 kids, to Payson High School, where there were 38 students in my senior class,” Armstrong recalled. “Talk about a rude shock.”
The original single-level building, with a central room and four guest rooms, was constructed in 1954. Soon after their arrival, the Turners added a dining room, eight lodging rooms with fireplaces above the original four, a lobby/lounge area, and the living quarters where Turner has continued to reside since her husband died 14 years ago.
“I really don’t know why we decided to buy the place,” Jean Turner said during a recent interview. “We’d never done anything like this before. We had been living near Chicago, and we just wanted to get out of the rat race of the big city. This project took much more of our time and energy than we had imagined, but Dick had a dream of what it could be like.”
At that time, Turner said, the Strawberry Lodge was hardly in tip-top condition.
“It was a mess. The linoleum was peeling, all of the furniture had scars and marks, it looked like nobody had ever taken care of it. Dick had never built anything before in his life ... but he did all the additions himself and expanded the building in all directions.”
Ask Jean Turner for memories, and she says there are just too many to choose from.
“Right now, the only thing I can say for sure is how much I’ll miss the people,” Turner said. “I love to visit with people. If my only job here was visiting with people, there wouldn’t be any problem. But there’s all those other things I need to keep track of and do, the business stuff, and it’s a lot of pressure. It’s time I took life a little easier.”